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Dearest Israel, please rise up

Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, Ukrainian citizens and supporters attend a special prayer for the Ukrainian people organized by Businessman Arie Schwartz, at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on March 2, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** תפילה
תפילות
חרדי
כותל
הכותל
המערבי
מערבי
טלית
טליתות
דגל
אוקראינה
מפללים
מלחלמה
פלישה
שגריר
שגריר אוקראינה בישראל איבגן קורניצ'וק
Kyiv's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, Ukrainian citizens and supporters attend a special prayer session at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on March 2, 2022, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

This is a love letter.

Had I no love for you, Israel — had I no faith in you — I wouldn’t have wasted these words.

But this is also a lament, my beloved. Because when your loved ones fall short, pain is inevitable. And I sit here with you, within you, and in pain.

Once upon a time, Israel, you were but an idea. A mad idea, an ambitious idea; the kind of idea most people dismiss as the stuff of fairytales. For a dispersed and persecuted people to gather up, rise up, take a sovereign and landed form — has it ever been achieved in history, before? It should not have been possible.

And yet.

The prayers of countless generations coalesced into actual hope, actual striving; and enough people rose to the occasion, believing in idea-you with enough ferocity to fight and work and bleed. They poured their lives and devotion into draining your swamps, building your roads, populating your wild places. They advocated for your formation as a state. They fought to defend you. They died for you, too.

And here you are: a new pinnacle in an ancient story that started when a nation of slaves left its house of bondage. The fulfilment of ancient promises. Our great opportunity to use all the values and stories we carried forth from one generation to the next (or was it they that carried us?), waiting for a time when we might shape the world in their image. For generations, we held so much within us:  Abraham, who opened his doors to all, who argued for the salvation of Sodom itself; Moses, who as a young prince intervened wherever he saw injustice, regardless of whether it meant saving a fellow Hebrew, reprimanding a fellow Hebrew, or saving a group of Midianite girls; Esther, who at her greatest moment of victory argued only for killing those who would have otherwise killed us, and led the Jews in refraining from taking any of their possessions, even so. And now, finally, we can draw upon all of these ancient, sacred stories, and try and build a society, an Israel, worthy of them all.

And you do shine, and in so many ways, dearest Israel. The spirit of innovation that blows in your sails is remarkable – your people share their discoveries with third world countries, bring water to deserts, and prosperity to places that are thirsty and parched. The care your generals put into ascertaining the ethical parameters of our warfare and into trying to implement them is astounding. The wellspring of giving that gurgles within your society constantly – astonishingly – overflows all expected bounds. No country is perfect, and your circumstances doomed you to struggle with more complications than many other states face daily. But through it all, the spirit of the individuals who brought you into the world, as well the national spirit that helped us survive long enough as a people to flock to you now with all our dreams and intentions – shone through.

But dearest, you can be more than this, today.

We, who used to be minorities in hostile places, have long outgrown that state of being, and the need to scheme and ingratiate and court the favor of each generation’s Achashverosh to fend off various Hamans. We – you – who uses to be a small nebulous state that must keep itself quiet and careful to survive its youth, have long outgrown that stage in our and your development, too. We – you, Israel – are strong and experienced and prosperous, and we must take our place amongst the nations, as equal shareholders in the wellbeing of the world.

As I write, men and women die in Ukraine – die horribly, senselessly, pointlessly. Other men and women are arrested in Russia, for daring to speak up against this horrid war. Their plight couldn’t have been our priority had we still been a persecuted minority that depends upon a king’s favor; nor could we do much when you were too young to stand fully on your feet. But we are too strong and too prosperous now to simply fade into the background, dearest Israel. It’s time for our words and deeds to shine with the spirit that made you what you are.

Are you so small in your own eyes, Israel, that you think you can hide behind half measures, weak excuses? ‘We can’t let you speak in the Knesset, Mister Zelensky, it’s under renovations‘; ‘We can’t let you speak in Yad Vashem, Mister Zelensky, you may make comments we disagree with’; ‘We can’t send you a field hospital, dear Ukraine, we don’t have funds for this’ (though this, at least, might be in the process of amendment).

I know, dear Israel, that you are not alone in your hesitancy – even stronger countries are afraid of what might come, right now, and dither over the extent of aid that they can offer. I know, as well, that your position – our position – is especially precarious, with enemies poised and ready to attack us from the north. But surely, surely, we can do more than we are doing, despite all such considerations? Surely we are no longer so very small, so very weak, that we must excuse and mumble our way through this time of strife and bloodletting, and in the face of a tyrant’s challenge against the very fabric of our world?

I believe in you, Israel – in everything you represent, in all the dreams that went into creating you, in the values you allow us to share with the wider world.

History is calling. Let us not say “I had taken off my robe— Was I to don it again? I had bathed my feet—Was I to soil them again?”

Let us, instead, rise fully to the challenge. Let us stand tall, as you deserve to, Israel. Let us look history in the eyes and say, hineni – ‘here I am’.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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